How to live



Author: Dame Deborah Jame

86,400 seconds. If you read this book or this review, and take away only that number, then I’ve achieved something.  I’ll  come back to this number a bit later.

Deborah James had been actively fighting bowel cancer. When you are given a less than 8% chance of surviving to 5 years, and the news that your cancer is stage IV, you have two choices. Focus on your death, or  actively live. Deborah chose to live.


This book describes how she reframed her life to do that. Instead of “why me?”, she thought “why not me?”  She learned one lesson, a very valuable lesson, early on in the game.  Deborah understand that she had no control over what had happened or what was likely to happen. What she did have control over was how she dealt with that.  Did she curl up in a ball of depression, sadness and mourning? Or did she think “let’s get on with my day, let’s be positive.” Deborah got positive. Instead of thinking she was going to die, she thought “I still have a life to lead, and having less than 8% chance of surviving 5 years is better than having none at all.”

If I had to describe it, I would say this  book feels like a conversation. As I have read, it has almost felt like I  was sitting opposite Deborah chatting, waiting for Seb to make us a coffee! It is a confronting book, in that Deborah does not sugar coat her illness and life. Confronting her cancer head on, is Deborah’s way. When it’s awful, she tells you. When it’s wonderful, she tells you. When she is awake all hours of the night from pain, she tells you. When she has extravagantly purchased new Birkenstocks at 4am when they’re released, she tells you! The way the book is written allows you to walk every aspect of that path with her, without feeling that you are intruding. 

This book is brave, real, raw, funny, emotional, compassionate, informative, comical, helpful, and honest. The fact that one book can tick all those boxes, is testament to the author. The book is beautifully written in an informal way. It’s that informality that makes it work so well. Deborah has, in a nutshell, told you how she has got through her 5 years since diagnosis, the life lessons she has learned. She has told you what matters and what doesn’t.

Now, here’s where we come back to 86,400 seconds. That’s how many there are in a day.

Deborah in her book, reminds us of something so simple. We wake up with those seconds every day, but we never know if we will see the day out. We never know how many days we have on this earth. Not a morbid thought, just the truth. It is up to us how we use those seconds. If life isn’t working for us, we need to change it. It may be that we need to reframe how we look at our own lives. 

To use one of Deborah’s quotes, she says “We are given 86,400 seconds every day, and we each choose how to use them. It is only as they begin to slip away from us that we understand the value of each and every one of those seconds. So, my greatest advice to you is that you can do whatever you want with those seconds. You can use them however you want. The choice is yours, but the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Do you believe in yours?”